June 8, 2017 / 3:59 PM / 2 months ago

Egypt calls for U.N. inquiry into accusation of Qatar ransom payment

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 1, 2017.Sergei Karpukhin

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Egypt on Thursday called for the United Nations Security Council to launch an investigation into accusations that Qatar paid a ransom of up to $1 billion "to a terrorist group active in Iraq" to release kidnapped members of its royal family.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and several other countries severed diplomatic and transport ties with Doha on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch-foe Iran, charges Qatar says are baseless.

Qatar has denied trying to pay ransom money to secure the release of 26 Qataris, including members of the country's ruling royal family, abducted in Iraq by unidentified gunmen. The Qataris were released in April, some 18 months after they were abducted during a hunting trip in southern Iraq.

"It is everywhere in the news that Qatar paid up to $1 billion to a terrorist group active in Iraq in order to release members of its royal family," senior Egyptian U.N. diplomat Ihab Moustafa Awad Moustafa told the Security Council.

"This violation of the Security Council resolutions, if proved correct, shall definitely have a negative bearing on counterterrorism efforts on the ground," he said. "We propose that the council launch a comprehensive investigation into this incident and other similar incidents."

U.N. Security Council resolutions call on states "to prevent terrorists from benefiting directly or indirectly from ransom payments or from political concessions and to secure the safe release of hostages."

A Qatar diplomat said the country abides by all U.N. Security Council resolutions on countering terrorism, including eradicating sources of financing for terrorism.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is ready to support any diplomatic efforts to resolve tensions between Qatar and other Gulf Arab states "if desired by all parties," his spokesman said on Thursday.

"The Secretary-General is following the situation in the Middle East with deep concern," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "He urges countries in the region to avoid escalating tensions and work instead to overcome their differences."

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown

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